With the exchange of overage players, Seattle remains set at the limit of three. In addition to Watson, the Thunderbirds are expected to return 20-year-old defensemen Jared Hauf and Jerret Smith.
Seattle’s first-round playoff exit precipitated a sudden turn of the page to the 2015-16 season. Evan Wardley is one of a quartet of players moving on in their respective hockey careers, while potentially 11 first-year players return for their sophomore seasons with the Thunderbirds.
Through the first three games, Seattle did an effective job of staying out of the penalty box and not handing the offensive juggernaut of Portland unnecessary man-advantages. That was not the case in Game 4.
Seattle defenseman Jerret Smith scored twice, including an empty-net goal at 18:34 of the third period, to give the T-Birds a 2-1 series lead.
Barzal scored scored the game-winning goal at 17:18 to cap a late third-period rally by the lower-seeded Thunderbirds.
The biggest award, though, went to overage goaltender Taran Kozun. Kozun, 20, was named the team’s Most Valuable Player after a season in which he finished with a 2.41 goals against average.
Seattle completed its regular-season series with the Winterhawks with a superior 7-4-1-0 record over their bitter Interstate-5 rival. The series was really a tale of two halves with the T-Birds winning five of the first six and Portland taking four of the final six.
True, 17, played sparingly Tuesday in his first game action since suffering a wrist fracture January 13 against Spokane.
Eansor capped a four-goal third period for Seattle (35-25-4-5) with the easiest goal of the bunch. His empty-net goal tallied his first career Western Hockey League hat trick in an eventual 7-3 victory over their U.S. division-rival in front of 6,084 at the ShoWare Center.
Wardley’s hits set the tone for the way Seattle likes to play. Because of his presence, Seattle is able to match up well with most top lines around the Western Hockey League. When Wardley is on the ice, opponents notice.